With the AFL football season starting this week there is a sense of privilege for those who were fortunate enough to have had a ticket to watch their team play. For 2 of the biggest clubs in the AFL, Richmond and Carlton, getting a ticket was never going to be easy. The game usually attracts around 90,000 because of the footy starved public. But with Covid restrictions limiting the MCG to 50,000, Richmond was given 25,000 and Carlton 2,000 of those tickets. It was always going to be impossible to make everyone happy. Sometimes life is unfair and there is nothing we can do about it – it is totally out of our control.
In our Gospel reading today we have some spectators who are also wanting to see a major event that is happening. There is a festival happening in Jerusalem for the Passover and a huge crowd was gathering for the event because they heard that Jesus was going to be attending. Some Greeks came to Phillip and said that they would love to be able to see Jesus. Because they were not members of the Jewish race they felt they were not going to be given that opportunity. They had heard of all the great things Jesus had been doing – the miracles and teaching with authority and no doubt wanted to see this first hand. In fact this was just after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and everyone was talking about it.
Phillip went to Andrew and told him about their request and together they went and told Jesus. But we’re not actually told whether or not they got to see Jesus. But it would not be long before everyone would get to see Jesus but not in the way they would have thought. They would see Jesus in a way that would shatter their expectations as they see him in a way that was not very glorious but in absolute shame hanging lifeless on a cross – crucified in humiliation in a most undignified death. They would now walk past shaking their heads in disgust – he saved others but could not even save himself.
But what they would not understand in all this is that they were witnessing the most glorious display of love and power by Jesus and his Heavenly Father. And that’s what Jesus explains before this happens: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Jesus is about to experience his death on the cross for our sins. One death that would create new life for many. But his concern is that his disciples will not understand what this means and reassures them that death in this situation is not the end of life but the beginning of a new life. And from here on all death will be the path to eternal life as St Paul says in Romans 6: Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
And Jesus uses the example of a seed that must die in order for not only the new life that will come from it but further seeds that will create even more new life and more seeds.
Jesus’ death is not an indication of defeat – which is what it will look like – but a hidden victory. Notice what was said in the Hebrews reading about that death to assure us that Satan had not gotten the upper hand:
Jesus offered up prayers with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. The writer admits that God was able to save his own Son from death – and that he heard Jesus’ cry out to him – but that would mean we would not receive eternal life when we die. So the writer of Hebrews wants to assure each of us that God also hears our prayers – our cries and tears – and we are asked to trust him especially during those times when we feel God has not heard our prayers because of our suffering.
As we have journeyed through these 12 months of Covid I’m sure we all cried out at some time to God wondering what was going on. Asking to reopen our churches and for a while we wondered if indeed God was aware of our plight and able to help. In any time of suffering the question can easily arise – where is God in all this? When the Israelites were exiled to Babylon they’re captors taunted them also – where is your God?
If there is a loving God why does he allow us to suffer? These are all valid questions but we can begin to understand through Jesus’ suffering that our suffering is part of the mystery of God that we do not understand. It’s not suggesting in any way that God sends suffering.
But who could ever understand what St Paul says in Romans 5 when he says that he rejoices in his suffering:
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. He rejoices in his suffering??? St Paul saw a mysterious closeness to God in times of suffering in 2 Corinthians when he wrote: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. Paul, again, delights in suffering.
That word “rest on me” is the key word to understanding. The Greek word is sken-o-ow – which is the same word in John 1:14 where John says – the Word became flesh and dwelt with us – rest on me – and dwelt are from the same word used in the Old Testament for the Tabernacle – which was the tent in which God lived with the Israelites and when God was present – the glory cloud or the Shekinah cloud (same word – sken-o-ow) would come an rest on the tabernacle. So what Jesus is teaching us – and what Paul discovered in suffering – is that there is this mystery hidden of God’s glory and presence with us in our suffering. Which is what Paul is referring to in Colossians chapter 3 when he says – For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God – hidden under a cloud of suffering. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. The glory cloud revealing God’s presence that has been hidden in us in our suffering
No one wants to suffer but suffering is not a sign that there is something wrong. Well, let me correct that – there is something wrong in the world – we call that sin.
But our suffering is not a punishment – it’s not a sign of God’s displeasure – but in our suffering God draws even closer to us. It’s like a parent who loves their child. But when their child suffers there comes a deeper love of agony watching your child suffer – to the point that if you could – you would take that suffering on yourself if you could free your child from their suffering. And that’s what God did for us. He took on our sin and punishment for sin and took our place on the cross. God made him who had no sin to become sin for us so that we would become the righteousness of God. That’s the mystery of why God, while we were yet sinners, loved us and sent his son to die for us. And that’s the new covenant that Jeremiah spoke of when he said – for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. And now, Jesus, who in the days of his flesh, offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission – now cries out to his heavenly Father for you – to the one who can save you from death and is heard because he is at the right hand of God interceding for you.
So may that Good News comfort you in your suffering and now that we know God hears your prayer, let us also cry out for the world – for those that do not yet know the love and mystery of God – let us cry out to God who hears us and is able to save the world from death and ask that his glory is made known to all people that all may come to know God and be saved.